If the world is destined to get so much richer, it may seem odd to worry simultaneously about hunger. But although progress has been made in recent decades 200 million fewer people were chronically undernourished in 2012-14 than in 1990-9226 – pressure on the food supply continues to grow: global demand is forecast to rise 60% by 2050.27 In this context, technologies that reduce food wastage will become ever more vital.
The population is forecast to rise from around 7 billion today to between 9 and 10 billion in 2050, and the proportion living in urban areas to rise to 70%, from around 50% today. The booming middle classes are very likely to eat more meat and dairy, requiring far more grain to feed the livestock (intensive farming methods can require as much as 7kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef). So pressure on the food supply will intensify because there will be many more mouths to feed, and because many of those mouths will eat food that is more intensively produced.
The debate over hunger is polarised and the outcome hangs on many uncertainties: the ultimate size of the global population – one recent study found a 70% chance it would grow to 11 billion by 210028; the energy content of the average diet – will it tend towards the US level (2,800 kilocalories per day) or the WHO recommended intake (2,200 kilocalories); average meat consumption; water shortage; the outlook for crop yield growth – which has fallen steadily over the last fifty years from 3.2% in 1960 to 1.5% in 200029; and the impacts on food output of biofuel production and climate change. Since these are uncertainties it is always possible there could be a positive outcome, but given the range of pressures, it is not hard to imagine negative scenarios.
26 How to feed the world in 2050, FAO, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf
27 World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050: The 2012 revision, FAO, June 2012, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/esag/docs/AT2050_revision_summary.pdf
28 World population to hit 11bn in 2100 – with 70% chance of continuous rise, Guardian, 18 September 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/18/world-population-new-study-11bn-2100
29 How to feed the world in 2050, FAO, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf